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The Girl Guides of Picton, New Zealand

Volunteer Jobs are Where You can Find Them

On working holidays you find opportunities in strange places. Two weeks after arriving in New Zealand I took a ferry to Picton, a place where few travelers stop. I was headed for Christchurch, but Picton was a pretty stopover, and I arrived too late in the day to travel further.

In the grocery store, I found a sign reading “Picton Guiding Group.” A girl scout all my life, I had looked up Girl Guides New Zealand on the Web and sent them an email asking if I could get involved. I had forgotten about it until I saw the sign inviting the adults of Picton to learn about their local group. It was an open invitation and I took it.

It turned out the reason for the meeting was to decide what was to be done about the group. It had no leader, and it was pretty clear that everyone there had already turned down the job. They turned to me, and I admitted I was just a foreigner who had seen a sign and decided to investigate.

Before I knew what was happening, I was asked to lead the Picton Guides. In exchange, I lived for free in the Guide Hall.

I had the building to myself except on Thursdays for Guide meeting and Wednesday nights when the Scottish country dancing group met.

I lived there until the end of the school term, washing dishes at a local café, planning scavenger hunts and parties for the Guides, and being part of Picton. Some days I’d walk to the waterfront and hire a kayak and on days off I would take trips to see the dolphins of Kaikoura and the wineries near Blenheim. I sold biscuits with Guide kids and leaders and was invited to speak at a meeting of older Guides about Girl Scouting in America.

After six weeks, I finished my career as Picton’s Guide leader and traveled to Christchurch…where I found a convention of 400 Guide leaders. I told them about my adventures in Picton and was invited to join their activity. “I’m not a Girl Guide,” one of the women told me. “I’m a Girl Scout, from the U.S.”

“Me too,” I told her. I was both.

My advice to working holiday travelers and other travelers is to remember who you are at home. Do you belong to a club? A church? Amnesty International? Habitat for Humanity? Scouts? Professional organizations? Do you have a skill the Red Cross or a conservation society can use? Call them. Small communities often don’t have enough volunteers.

What I learned in Picton is to not be afraid to try. I was able to help fulfill a community need while making connections that helped me. You aren’t always needed, but you can’t find opportunities if you don‘t ask.

For More Info

To learn about international girl scouting and guiding, start with: To find information about Girl Guides in New Zealand go to:

BBH has great information on budget travel and accommodation throughout New Zealand:

For information on New Zealand working holidays visit the BUNAC website.

KRIS BAKER lives and writes in her native Washington state.

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